Byron Katie on how The Work was born

Ray: Who were you when The Work was born, and who are you now?

Byron Katie

Katie: Who I believed myself to be was a hopeless case. I would wake up in the mornings, notice I was still breathing, and hate God for keeping me alive. I would constantly think of killing myself, but I had three children, so that wasn’t a possibility.

I was clinically depressed. I was agoraphobic, full of rage, so paranoid that I slept with a gun under my pillow.

I would go for days and weeks at a time when I couldn’t even bathe or brush my teeth. My self-esteem was so low that I slept on the floor, because I didn’t believe I deserved a bed.

One morning, in 1986, as I lay asleep on the floor, a cockroach crawled over my foot. And I opened my eyes out of this dead sleep—a 43-year-long sleep—and in place of all that darkness was a joy that I can’t describe.

No one had told me you could be alive and happy, and if someone had said that I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought you had to die—physically die—to escape.

In that moment I was absolutely unidentified, so I can’t say “I.” It was without identification. There was no time or space. There was nothing separate. All that was left was amazement and joy.

And whenever a thought—whenever any of the thoughts that had depressed me all those years, those terrifying thoughts that told me how worthless and terrible I was—hit my mind, I saw that it wasn’t true.

I began to laugh—or, without identification, we can say that it began to laugh. It just roared. I like to say it was born out of laughter.

The Work was born in that moment. I realized that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I didn’t believe my thoughts, I didn’t suffer.

And I’ve come to see that this is true for every human being.

So, the first two questions in The Work—“Is it true?” and “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”—are what I saw when the thoughts appeared. No thoughts are true. They can’t be. I saw that with absolute clarity.

The third question is “How do you react when you believe that thought?” Well, that was obvious: sadness, anger, despair. I saw that all these things are the effects of believing a thought that isn’t even true.

Then I saw that there was no identity until the thoughts appeared, so the fourth question is “Who would you be without the thought?”

Then what I call the turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe, occurred. I saw that for every thought, the opposite is just as true, or even truer.

I realized that it was all upside down and backward—what was true, what was not true, what was the dream world, what was the real world.

For example, I used to suffer from thoughts like “My husband should listen to me.” The turnaround was “My husband shouldn’t listen to me.” How did I know that my now ex-husband shouldn’t listen to me? He didn’t. That was reality.

So, I had all four questions and the turnaround literally in a moment—in less than a moment. And when I talk about my world, people relate to it, because it’s so familiar to them. It’s them. They’re hearing themselves.

Inviting people to inquiry is much more powerful to me than describing my experience. When people ask me, as you did, I try to describe it, because it’s all valuable. And when people hear me tell the story, they often say, “Oh my goodness, I get it. I get it!”

But it’s not enough.

Asking the questions—actually writing down your stressful thoughts and putting them up against the four questions, then turning the thoughts around and finding genuine examples of how the turnarounds are true—that’s what changes lives.

Every cell in your body is awake with inquiry. And you cannot believe the old thoughts again.

Every mind deserves to be free. When the mind is free, that’s the end of suffering.

*Read my full interview with Katie at and learn more about her at her site

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